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The items in the activity blend and combine to suggest what might be thought of as parenting themes.  The first of these themes relates to the client’s knowing what her child needs and what is important to the child.  This combines with being familiar with and interested in the child’s activities and involvements.  The blending continues with knowing about and helping with the child’s problems and difficulties.  In addition, the parent interest extends to the youngster’s ideas and thoughts about things, his perceptions and point of view.  The principle is that being a good parent means that, as a parent, “know your child” is the first order of business.

The second theme combines spending time with the child each day and being sure that the parent and the child talk with each other regularly.  This is, of course, a minimum condition for knowing the child.  The principle encourages the parent to “Be available to your child.”

The third theme blends being someone with whom the child likes to spend time and being pleased with and proud of the child.  These two factors in turn blend with setting a good example for the youngster into a cluster of parent characteristics to which the young person can easily relate and with which she may identify.  The relationship is with someone with whom the youngster is comfortable and is a relationship within which the young person may easily participate.  This ease of participation is facilitated by the parent’s giving the young person her space where she is supported in being who she is.  The principle is to develop and maintain a positive and open relationship with the child.

Developing and maintaining an open and positive relationship with the child where the parent both knows the child and is available to her incorporates most of what is involved in being a good parent.  Within this type of parent/child environment, getting the child to cooperate will be relatively easy and will happen relatively spontaneously.  Why does the child cooperate?  Because she sees the parent as someone who reciprocates cooperation and as someone with whom it is nice to cooperate.

Discipline is still necessary but is, within this context, a relatively minor part of the parenting task.  Parents need to exercise parental authority as will be discussed in the next activity.  The only requirement is that the exercise of that authority – discipline – is reasonable and fair.  The consultant will want to encourage the parent to talk with the youngster about the reasonableness and fairness of discipline, especially if the young person is of grade school age or older.  In addition, the consultant will want to review the parent’s discipline primarily focusing on the extent to which that discipline is both reasonable and fair.

For example, reasonable discipline is nonviolent, characterized by gentle firmness, is proportional to the difficulty or transgression, is reasonably consistent, and takes in to consideration the age of the child and the specific situation in which the child was involved.  Fairness also takes into consideration these factors and looks at the simple principle of equity among and between siblings, whether or not any discipline was appropriate on a particular occasion, and the extent to which discipline is carried out in an even-handed way.

An important point needs emphasis.  Negative discipline or punishment should never be a reaction to something the child did or did not do.  Punishment should never be retaliatory or represent some form of retribution.  Discipline has a simple purpose: to decrease the likelihood of unacceptable behavior in the future and to increase the likelihood of appropriate behavior.  In this sense, discipline is always for the sake of the future and is never a response to things that have happened in the past.

Following from the above thought, discipline is and ought to be nothing more or less than a significant educational experience for the young person.  It is in the interest of her learning.  As a learning opportunity and as an educational experience, discipline should always be understood as a positive intervention in the interest of the child’s future behavior and well being.  Forcing children into compliance, then, is never appropriate.  The goal is to teach them more appropriate, more acceptable, more effective behavior.  From this perspective, the teaching tips in part one of this book apply.

Occasionally, discipline involves the imposition of negative consequences.  The youngster’s environment is adjusted in ways that result in some behavior leading to unwanted or undesirable consequences.  These negative consequences should be such that they simply encourage the youngster to adopt more appropriate, more acceptable behavior in the future.  The next activity relates to the use of authority in relationship to negative consequences.

An additional point about discipline is in order.  Parents will get about the same results using either a permissive or autocratic approach to discipline.  The key is being reasonably consistent with the approach.  The worst results will be found with parents who vacillate between autocratic and permissive approaches: vacillate between cracking down and giving up.  The problematic effect is compounded when one parent is fairly permissive while the other is fairly autocratic.  Consistency as noted here also includes both parents being consistent relative to the approach being used.

The best results will be obtained using what has been called an authoritative approach to parenting.  In this situation, both parents are reasonably consistent and both have fairly clear rules, fairly clear expectations, and a fairly clear pattern of dealing with significant variations from expectations.  In this sense, the approach is toward the autocratic end of the continuum.  The additional factor is one of talking with the child about the problem, explaining the reasons for discipline, and, to the extent possible, being sure that the child understands what is happening and why.  No, it is not necessary that she agrees.  It is only important that she understands.  (Note) It is important to use the same approach with infants and toddlers and with older children, even though they may not understand the discussions and explanations.  Even in these situations, an attitude of talking, discussing, and explaining is conveyed nonverbally.

The Heart of Parenting

Our own child is special to us.  He or she is part of our being.  This is true whether the child is our biological offspring or has become our child as a result of special circumstances.  If we do not hold this special feeling with sincerity and enthusiasm, the child will know and will suffer in proportion.

Most interaction with our children has little if anything to do with encouragement or discouragement, boundaries or limits; rather, we participate with them in the fun and frustration of being parents and kids physically, emotionally, and socially.  We want them to love us, to love themselves, to love other people, and to love the world around them.  We express our love through touching, physical involvement, playing, doing things together, sharing feelings and fears and frustrations, going places with them and wanting them to go places with us, and allowing them the freedom to grow and to experience the world away from us.  Our relationship with them is not exclusive.  We want them to have an exciting life of their own, knowing that their relationship with us is secure and predictable.  In addition, we want our children to respect us, to respect themselves, other people, and the world about them.  Much of a child’s attitude toward herself and toward the world about her comes from our attitudes about her.

Fortunately or unfortunately, many children do not turn out like their parents.  Why does this happen?  Very simply, it happens because parents are not the only influence on children, albeit the primary influence.  Just as children learn to love by being loved, they learn respect for self and others by being respected.  Our behavior, attitudes, and beliefs will be reflected in our children.  More than we may ever know, they “do as we do.”

Children also develop attitudes toward themselves and others as a response to the attitudes and beliefs others communicate to them about themselves.  In part, children become what we tell them they will become.  We convey this definition of self through our physical, emotional, and social interaction with them as well as through the way we relate as parenting adults.  Beyond these things, there is a whole world of influences over which we have little control.  Our hope must be that we have encouraged and discouraged their capacities so they can effectively deal with the multiple influences of the world.  We hope our loving respect has been strong enough and clear enough to be integrated into their being as they move out into a world which may not perceive them as unique.  Their sense of being special comes from us.  We can only hope it is solid enough to last a lifetime.

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